The games begin to look more and more like Netflix: Instead of buying a disc in the store and playing it at home, subscription services from Sony, Microsoft, Nvidia and others allow you to access tons of games for a monthly price or even stream them without need a long download. But between Xbox Live Gold, Game Pass, xCloud, PS Plus, PS Now, Nintendo Switch Online and everything else, it’s hard to know what does what – and what it’s worth paying for. And that’s before we mention mobile games. Let’s break everything.
Updated November 2021: We’ve expanded this guide to mention subscriptions to Nintendo Switch Online, Apple Arcade, Google Play Pass, Google Stadia, GeForce Now, and Amazon Prime Gaming.
PS Plus vs. PS Now
Let’s start with Sony, which has a slightly simpler range of offerings. If you have a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5, you can subscribe to two different services: PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now.
This is Sony’s online multiplayer service. For $ 10 a month (or $ 60 a year) you can play online with friends and rivals. (Without a subscription, you can only play single-player games offline.) PS Plus sweetens the deal by giving you a few free games each month that you can keep as long as you’re a subscriber. If you have a PS5, the new PS Plus collection adds 20 of the best PS4 games to catch up. There are also great discounts for the PlayStation Store – and the best part is that you can often get PS Plus super cheap from reputable eBay sellers or buy codes from Amazon, so buying is easy.
PlayStation Now is Sony’s gaming and streaming subscription service. For $ 10 a month (or $ 60 a year) you get access to hundreds of games for PS4, PS3 and PS2 – 800 of which you can stream directly to your console or computer via the Internet without having to download and install them. Or you can download and play over 400 PS4 games in a more traditional, offline way. You’ll need a solid internet connection to work streaming, but otherwise it’s like Netflix for PlayStation games – and it’s also the only way to play PS3 and PS2 games on your modern console. You also don’t need a particularly powerful computer.
Note: PS Plus and PS Now are separate subscriptions, so if you want online multiplayer and online game streaming, you’ll need to take care of both. PS Now streaming is also different from PS Remote Play, which allows you to stream games from PS4 or PS5 in your house to another PS4 or computer. Remote play is free for everyone, as long as you own the console and games.
Xbox Live Gold vs. Game Pass vs. Game Pass Ultimate
The stability of Xbox services is much more confusing – there are three separate subscription services, some of which have separate levels and include other subscriptions combined in them. Here’s everything you can subscribe to from Microsoft.
Formerly known as Xbox Live, the Xbox Network is not actually a paid subscription, but for the sake of clarity, we include it here. Here you create your online profile and friends list, send and receive messages, etc. Microsoft allows online multiplayer without a paid subscription for more than 50 free games. However, you can’t play first-class games online with friends unless you have a paid subscription to …
For $ 10 a month (or $ 25 a quarter), this subscription allows you to play Xbox games online with friends. (A gold subscription is not required to play Microsoft computer games online.) You receive two free games per month as part of your subscription, as well as discounts on other games in the Microsoft Store.
Subscribe to the Game Pass on your Xbox and you’ll have access to hundreds of games to download and install. The standard Game Pass for a console costs $ 10 a month and includes “more than 100” games, with some titles occasionally spinning and coming out, in Netflix style. The first titles of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios will appear in the service as soon as they launch, while others may take longer to appear.
It’s the same as the Xbox Game Pass for consoles, but – as the name suggests – it allows you to download and play these games on your computer. It costs the same $ 10 a month, but includes games from EA Play, which means it has a slightly larger library.
As the name suggests, this subscription includes everything we’ve mentioned so far. This is a combined service for $ 15 per month that allows you to access the entire Game Pass and EA Play libraries on your computer and Xbox, along with online multiplayer and discounts in the Microsoft Store (no need for a separate subscription to Xbox Live Gold). This includes Microsoft’s new gaming streaming service, xCloud, which is in beta and streams games from the Internet to your Android phone. If you want everything Microsoft has to offer, you can get everything in Game Pass Ultimate. This is one of the best deals in games right now – although that name really depends on your habits. If you play a lot of different games, it’s worth it, but if you tend to stick to a few titles for months, that may not be as convincing.
If you have Xbox Live Gold credit, you can convert it to Game Pass Ultimate at the rates described on this page – which is actually great if you can find Xbox Live Gold discount codes.